Passing on the Fever

Ever since I was a little boy, I have had a fetish for the fast and old iron and was fortunate enough to grow up in the muscle car era, but could never really afford the cars that I wanted. Now that I have grown up and own my own body shop, I am able to play a little.

I bought my first project from my brother in about 1992, which was a 1954 Chevy 3/4 ton pickup. When I finally started my project in the garage, much to my surprise working beside me much of the time was my daughter. Any spare time we had, we were working on the old truck and trying to make beauty out of the beast. It was a pickup named Gert. This was a project that took about four years to complete. Through the process, mom was upset quite a few times because we ruined a few clothes, painted our hair, got greasy a lot, but in the midst of all that, had a great father/daughter day every time.

After, working on old Gert one warm summer afternoon with my daughter and son, we were driving Gert home from the body shop. My daughter who was about seven then, said, “Dad turn on the air conditioner, it’s kind of warm in here!” With a big grin on my face I reached down and pushed the lever under the dash forward to open the cowl inducted vent in front of the windshield and the air rushed in, along with all the sanding dust and dirt from behind the dash and floor. Both kids looked up at me in disbelief, covered with fine white sanding dust (yes Dad was in trouble again) after telling them that was the a/c, they just smiled and rode on bouncing down the road. A little ways further down the road they asked if they could listen to the radio and again I said, “sure go ahead and turn it on.” Well after waiting for about 1 minute for the tubes to warm up they received am radio at its best. Still in disbelief, both kids at that point thought I was crazy. We now have completed this truck and have had lots of fun through the years with it from pulling class floats, going to car shows, parades to Sunday cruises.

This truck is now my daughters, and yes, she does drive a 4 speed manual transmission with no power steering. She drives it to car shows and cruises on Sundays and even gives her dad a ride now and then.

My second project was a 1964 Chrysler 300 special K car that my mother-in-law and wife (age eight) bought in 1969 without my father-inlaw even knowing about, for the sum of $900.00. My mother-in-law drove this car for several years with the intent of when her daughter turned old enough that this car would someday be hers to drive to school.

In 1979 my wife was a junior in high school and was given this car to drive. Mom replaced it with a Dodge Charger. Well the old Chrysler which had 10 foot panels and a wheel base long enough to almost need a class 3 drivers license, was not a cool as she once thought. It remained parked in machinery row out back at the farm and was forgotten about for about 25 years until one day she comes up to me and says I sure would like to restore that old car. You don’t take time to ask questions when your wife condones spending money to restore another old car. Off we went - first the teardown and the parts search. The parts search taught me more about this car than I really wanted to know.

First the special K car was a limited edition (about 3000 were made in 1964) stock from the factory mint a big block 413 engine with a 3 speed automatic transmission on the floor with a council shifter, electric bucket seats, rear defrost, reverb am/fm radio, power steering, power brakes and a/c. This was a loaded car for the time.

The restoration was done in record time in about 18 months with a lot of help from Executive Touch. In 1964, this body style was the Daytona 500 pace car. It is great fun to drive and loves to cruise as it floats down the road. The trunk is the size of a small apartment so we often kid that if we were traveling we would not need a hotel room, just a sleeping bag. My son likes to cruise in it because he can get half his class in the back seat and still have room.

When my son turned 14, I said to him, “Son I want us to build a car together, so start thinking about what kind of car you want to build.”

It didn’t take him very long to come to me with a photo off the internet of a car down in Remsen, IA. It was a 1968 Chevelle. My heart went about a hundred miles per hour since my very first car was the same.

The next weekend over Christmas break in a snow storm, we made a trip to Country Classics to kick some tires. When we got to the place, the car looked pretty good from a distance, but could see that it needed some work. We got out and the owner said to my son Tyler, “You get first chance at this car, but I have to tell you there are two other people that want to look at this car in about 45 minutes.”

Needless to say we went home owners of a 1968 Chevelle that barely ran and wasn’t pretty closeup, but as I had taught him beauty is in the eye of the beholder and if you have a dream, good things can happen. He didn’t care. This was his first car and it was a cool old classic.

We got the car home and got it running long enough to get stalled due to a bad timing chain in a tired 327 engine. We decided it was time to start our project. We totally tore the car apart one Saturday. In my son’s eyes, we had ruined it and it will never be a car again but he and my son-in-law who also helped, had fun tearing it down.

On this day, I promised him that by the first day of his senior year, if he stayed out of trouble, he would have the nicest car he could dream of.

This project did take all of the three years and lot of hours. Tyler watched car shows to see what colors to paint his car and of course what kind of radio it was going to have (not just am), what kind of wheels and interior. Parts were given for Christmas and birthdays. Bucket seats were found to replace the old bench seat.

In a billion pieces, the ‘68 didn’t resemble too much of a car until we finally reached the point of paint and then assembly. It was the summer of his senior year and we were trying frantically to get this car done for senior pictures. We felt like we were on some TV show and under the gun. Every night after work and every weekend, we were at the shop building. We even had all of his friends involved. We did make our deadline and Cool Deadwood Nights. He is now a senior and is having a blast driving a cool, old car, when he can afford the gas in the 396 big block.

What a payback when you are able to see the smiles and the pride that he has in this car because he and his dad built it. Yes, his dad likes driving it too, but his mom says I teach my son bad things when I drive, must be mid-life crisis I claim, but everyone who knows me, knows that I just never grew up.

My son-in-law has a 1968 Mustang fastback in line next for restoration. Yet again, I have the dreaded fever, but love the hobby and hope to leave my mark on my children and grandchildren someday so that they can also appreciate the old iron.

If you love old cars, I can only hope that you are able to get your family involved, and that we can keep the dream alive. I got my family interested and have solidified the next generation of car enthusiasts so when I’m too old to drive (never) they will take me to a car show or two.

Dreams do come true. Keep cruising with the windows down.

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